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A message from Lee Saunders: My thoughts on the state of America today

June 02, 2020

The state of America today, further shattered by George Floyd’s murder, breaks every patriotic heart. The raw outrage we see in the streets comes as a pandemic has needlessly killed more than 100,000 of our loved ones and more than 40 million Americans are out of work, afraid they won’t be able to provide at the dinner table let alone next month’s rent or mortgage.

We have tried to address the problem of systemic racism peacefully. But those attempts – including kneeling during the national anthem – were met with scorn, mockery and blacklisting. Now we are at the point where millions have nothing left to lose, and they are channeling their anger through violence.

But as an African-American man who lived through the 1960s, a father who has two sons and three grandsons and is concerned about their future, and as someone who leads one of the largest labor unions in the country – one that is strongly allied with the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement – I propose a better way to channel our anger and our energy. Peaceful protests must continue. In the process we cannot tear down the very vital services our families, friends and neighbors need to make it through this pandemic.

The vulnerable need access to grocery stores and pharmacies. Workers cannot afford the closure of more businesses due to riots. Any anger and energy spent destroying the vital services our nation needs in this tumultuous time in our history is a dishonor to George Floyd’s memory and only sinks us further into chaos.

If we want to crush systemic racism, this is where we should begin: by registering to vote and bringing down every politician who has built a career out of stoking racial flames, failing to prepare our nation for this pandemic, and doing nothing as millions more file jobless claims each week.

This applies to every elected official from the top down. We must educate ourselves on where they stand. We must register to vote. And we must destroy the rigged system that has enabled their rise to power.

I know a thing or two about organizing protests. These gatherings began as peaceful demonstrations to protest the murders of unarmed African Americans and to call for an end to racial injustice. Unfortunately, there are some outsiders who have used these peaceful protests to stoke violence in communities across the country. 

But make no mistake: the rage we see is real and it is pulsating through our communities. I call on all of us to channel that rage toward our ultimate goal: an America that lives up to its promise for all.

Lee Saunders
President
AFSCME

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